The Walking Dead Game Retrospective: Forever Alive Inside

Telltale Games' The Walking Dead is a phenomenal game series full of ups and downs. It has been a few years since The Final Season came out, and now it's time to look back on the six years of The Walking Dead in this retrospective of the Telltale Games series.

The Walking Dead Game Retrospective Forever Alive Inside

One of the most beloved examples of story-driven narrative mixed with interactive gameplay. In this retrospective, we’ll be talking about The Walking Dead Game, a critically acclaimed episodic adventure horror. Telltale Games developed and published the series initially in 2012, paving the way for similar games such as Life Is Strange. Six years later, the series ended with The Final Season in 2018. Looking back on it now, it’s interesting to see how the game evolved over time. It’s interesting to see how we, as the players, not only shaped our own individual stories but the story of The Walking Dead Game series beyond our own screens, too.

As an episodic game, a formula that is slowly going out of fashion, episodes were released every few months. This gave players time to digest and prepare for the next chapter of the story. It gave the game more ‘up-time’ as opposed to having all the hype peak and then quickly dip again shortly after. Fans were eagerly waiting for each instalment. This gave a traditional TV show-like feel to the tales. We’d also get a glimpse or a little sneak peek at the end of the episode about what was to come next.

This video game has a charming, comic book style of graphics that is Telltale’s iconic look. It’s actually set in the same universe as Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic, which allows the game to relish this style even more. It introduces us to this unforgiving world in which you have to make decisions that will impact the future of the story, as well as other characters. It’s a classic choice-based narrative game, but just how successful was it at being one?

Disclaimer: This The Walking Dead Game Retrospective includes major spoilers. You have been warned.

The Importance of Family

Season One of the game was phenomenal. A brilliant intro to the world of walkers. We play as Lee Everett, taking care of a young girl named Clementine amidst the undead apocalypse. The brilliant part about it is how our decisions affect Clementine and her character directly. There are several times when a dialogue option will affect Clementine’s behaviour and what she may say under certain circumstances. This pressures the player into trying to do ‘the right thing’. In this world, however, that option isn’t always clear.

Lee and Clementine

Lee and Clementine

The characters of this season are definitely some of my favourites of all the seasons. We have so many different dynamics at play in just the first three episodes, and tensions slowly boil over within our survival group. We built these familial connections not only with Clem but with other members of our group, too. As Lee, you get to choose who you deem your family. Who would you trust when things turn upside down?

Season One hit all the feels...

Season One hit all the feels…

The writing, the story, the characters, the gameplay, and the voice acting are all fantastic. All the plot twists along the way, the sadness in loss and the satisfaction in learning a new meaning of family. It teaches the player about the importance of trust, hope and bonds. Season One is often considered the best, the peak of The Walking Dead Game.

Your Game, Your Choices… Our Story?

Shortly after the first season came to a close, Clementine took centre stage. In 2013, The Walking Dead returned with a sequel that didn’t deviate far from what the original game laid out. It improved upon the first’s gameplay features and gave the player more interaction than before. Telltale Games had done it again… to an extent.

Clementine is now guided by survival instincts

Clementine is now guided by survival instincts

My main issue with the second instalment of the series is the fact that, in the end, our decisions genuinely didn’t really matter, and the new characters left the stage too soon. Let’s compare it to The Walking Dead: TV Show. We go on a journey with a solid group of characters. Sure, many will bite the dust, but prominent characters will be around for longer periods of time. In the game, however, it is very much the opposite. It feels like we lose a lot of potential and room for great character development for the sake of killing characters off. For shock value, maybe? Or perhaps for the game’s development process. I genuinely believe it would’ve been an even more engaging narrative had a few more of the characters from the first and second seasons stuck around longer.

The feels were there, but the decisions weren't

The feels were there, but the decisions weren’t

There are multiple instances in the narrative where saving a character will have them die very quickly. Sometimes this even happens in the same episode. Keeping these ‘determinant’ characters alive doesn’t even give them any time for extra character development. A pattern began to emerge. If a character has the potential to die, they will die at one point or another. Having multiple branching storylines across four different titles would’ve been pretty crazy, so I can see why these decisions didn’t have as much impact as I would have liked to see. Nevertheless, Season Two still has a brilliant story.

An Unnecessary Restart

Probably the most controversial point in this retrospective of The Walking Dead Game, we come to A New Frontier, which re-focuses the story with a new lens. Season Three brings in a new protagonist: Javier Garcia. He was completely unrelated to Clementine’s story until their paths crossed. Unfortunately, the season overall just didn’t feel the same. A New Frontier, new protagonist, new graphics, new feel. Why fix something that’s not broken? It felt odd. Almost like they were trying to re-invent their game when it had already found heaps of success.

Clementine and newcomer Javier

Clementine and newcomer Javier

While this may seem like a great way to refresh the series, I don’t feel as though it needed it. With a series that focuses on a single character’s story for two seasons and promises to continue it in the third, it’s very strange to suddenly deviate from her perspective and focus on someone who will not even be returning in the next season, anyway.

We meet a functional family- but not for long

We meet a functional family- but not for long

One great thing about this season is that your decisions do matter more. Though, this is simply because it was almost like a one-off. Most characters in this story can die. Your decisions may lead to different outcomes, but this is because this season’s narrative is entirely closed off after the last episode. Don’t get attached to the characters here because they don’t come back. It feels, decision-wise and narratively like a wonky bridge between season two and The Final Season.

Coming Full Circle

The Final Season is one that many players loved. It brought us back into the shoes of a guardian, guiding a child through a zombie apocalypse. Season Four had a brilliant set-up. Bringing back one of the earliest characters as an antagonist also made for a very interesting plot. This made us face a familiar question. What is the meaning of family, how far does that go, and is the true enemy within us?

Clementine and AJ

Clementine and AJ

Out of all the gameplay discussed in this retrospective, Season Four of The Walking Dead Game was definitely the most compelling and engaging. There is way more combat, and elements of genuine tactical skill required, unlike in the games before. With bow-and-arrow segments and intense combat mixed with quick time events, the developers really did a great job at mixing story with gameplay here.

A brilliant end to the story, but could it have been better?

A brilliant end to the story, but could it have been better?

My biggest issue was that we were meeting an entirely new cast again. The last season that would ever release, and we’d only get four episodes with the new cast. It felt odd to bring in so many new elements to a story that was just closing off, anyway. I do think it worked well, to be completely fair, but I’d personally like to have seen more of the same faces throughout multiple seasons.

The Dead Always Win

The Walking Dead Game is an experience that I’ll truly never forget. It had an enormous impact on the industry of video games and the interactive narrative genre forever. Who could forget the tale of Lee and Clementine? A man who starts the game in handcuffs as a villain, a murderer, and ends the game in handcuffs as a hero who was given a second chance at life and chose to use it to give a little girl a fighting chance in a world turned dark.

As players, we are the reason that we even saw the end of Clementine’s story. The fall of Telltale Games happened in September 2018 after the first episode of Season Four. Countless lay-offs left a tiny skeleton crew trying to finish The Final Season alone, and Telltale closed its doors. That’s when Skybound came in shortly after, to rescue the game and finish what Telltale started.

Time won't forget these two, they'll be forever alive inside

Time won’t forget these two, they’ll be forever alive inside

This game is something that can’t be re-created. One that offers a journey like no other. Yes, there are flaws, and if I could go back and have the last two seasons re-considered with character progression and continuity at their heart, I would. I still very much enjoyed what each season had to offer, though. The Walking Dead is one of those games that I’d love to play for the first time again, with a fresh set of eyes. It’s one that I keep coming back to every few years and will no doubt live on in players’ hearts.

For anyone who hasn’t yet played The Walking Dead Game, I hope you found this retrospective useful. Check out the Definitive Addition that encompasses all four seasons plus the bonus DLC stories available on Xbox, PlayStation, PC and more platforms. You won’t regret it. For those who have already played it, I hope you enjoyed looking back on the last ten years of this story.

Thank you, Telltale Games and Skybound.

The Walking Dead: The Telltale Definitive Series - Available Now!

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